A Second Chance -- Chapter 21

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

This is the last of the daily episodes. I have lots more for the story, but need a break for the weekend, at least. Look for something by Wednesday or so: Dawn.

SUNDAY, May 14, 2016

Rachael was exhausted, but still woke early. Today should be a simple day. Church in the morning, perhaps a visit to Mikki’s after lunch. Is Mr. Stoner back with the family, she wondered? Then it would be time to start on dinner for Grandpa. There wouldn’t be many more Sunday dinners in this old house. She looked around. She was going to miss her room, tiny as it was. Rachael had lived here all her life. Old Rachael. But even new Rachael had her memories, and sighed at the thought of leaving the familiar old place.

Church this morning. She hoped that Paul and John would be there, so Momma could talk to them about the apartment. Both Maria and Rachael had stopped worrying so much about getting a place once they had set their hearts and hopes on the store. She only hoped that they could afford it, and that it would be available. The Lord always comes through for me, she thought, and put the idea that they might not get the apartment out of her mind again.

She made breakfast. French Toast was becoming a Sunday tradition, and Bobby now knew to come down in his pajamas, so he didn’t get syrup on his Sunday clothes. Rachael didn’t care. His huge smiles as he ate the tasty breakfast made it all worthwhile. And while Bobby had declared French toast to be the ‘best breakfast ever’ when he first tasted it, it was far better now when made with Geoff’s bread, which never got a change to go stale in the Cartright household.

At church, they took a pew halfway up, and sat near the aisle. A few minutes later, John and Paul walked in, and seeing them, came up to join them. Maria leaned across Rachael and Bobby, and said “I would like to talk to you two for a minute after the service, if you don’t mind.” John nodded yes, while the more analytical Paul furrowed his brow, trying to guess what the young woman would want of them.

Just then Reverend McNaughton entered the church and went to the altar. He looked around, staring directly at Rachael and her group. She saw him push something aside on the podium, and then take another sheaf of papers from within his vestments, never smiling or showing any emotion.

After opening prayers and hymns, the children went down to Sunday school and the sermon started.

I”I have a special sermon, today,” the reverend said, staring straight at the little group. “It comes from Leviticus.” Rachael felt John tense up as the pastor said this.

“Leviticus 18:22 says ‘You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination’," the pastor said. “Then, in Leviticus 20:13 the Good Book says ‘If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their bloodguiltiness is upon them’.” Paul stood first, and pulled John to his feet, and the pair started to leave the church.

“Go forth, sinners,” the minister called at them as they left, as though he were mocking them.

Rachael leapt to her feet, shouting “NO!” in as loud a voice as she ever had used. “You cannot judge them. They are good men.”

“They are sinners,” the reverend said as the men continued to walk out of the church. “The Bible says so.”

“Leviticus also says that a man may not trim his beard,” Rachael shouted. “I see no beard on you. Does that make you a sinner? It also says that we may not uncover our heads, and I see that half the women here, and almost all the men are not wearing a hat. It says women on their period must be ‘put away’ for seven days during that time? It says it is a sin to eat fat. How many of us had bacon this morning? Are we all sinners? You cannot pick one law that suits your purposes and ignore all the rest.”

The minister was clearly getting angry. The sermon was his time to preach to his flock, not to debate with young girls. Especially ones who apparently had read the Bible, and knew what was in it. He shouted: “This is my church, and I am the one who decides who is a sinner and who is not.”

“It is NOT your church,” Rachael screamed at him. “It is the house of God. God made those two men. How could he make them sinners if he is all-knowing?”

“Silence,” roared the pastor. “Those men may have been made by God, but the Devil has led them into sin. They are SINNERS!”

“If you go into their shop, you will see a painting,” Rachael said, calming herself a little. “It is a painting by John, the shorter of the two. Anyone here who has seen it will know that it was painted by God, through John’s hands. There is no way that he, or his partner, are anything but God’s own children, favored by him with immense talents.”

“They are SINNERS,” the reverend repeated. He was turning red and was sweating profusely. “If I am wrong, may God strike me down on the spot. I say that … that …” With that the minister’s eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed.

Rachael was already standing, and with John and Paul gone, was on the aisle. She only hesitated a moment and then took off running full speed up to the altar. She found the minister lying on the floor. She didn’t need to be able to see into his body to know that he was not breathing, nor was his heart beating.

Ron had taken First Aid courses while in university, and had even become a trainer for St. John’s Ambulance before his veterinary practice took off. Thus Rachael knew exactly what to do. She tore open the man’s clerical collar and straightened him out properly. She began chest compressions.

“Don’t you die on me,” she mumbled to herself as she began CPR. “Don’t. You. Die.”

Soon she was chanting the words as she made compressions, trying to keep blood flowing to his brain. She glanced up, and saw her mother and others in the congregation ringing her. “Has someone called 9-1-1?” Dozens of people looked shocked, and then reached for their phones. “The ambulance is on the way,” it was the deacon, who normally took the offering in. Rachael didn’t stop the CPR, and started her chant again, first as a mumble, then louder and louder.

Maria stood by, watching her daughter work on the man, who looked dead to her. When he had fallen, she had heard whispers of both ‘witch’ and ‘angel’ from people around her. Now more and more were saying ‘angel’ as they watched Rachael working so hard to save him. Maria listened to Rachael’s chant, and she repeated it. Others around her picked up on it and soon all 120 people in the church, even those who had remained in the pews, were chanting “Don’t. You. Die,” as Rachael made her compressions.

Finally, the sound of an ambulance could be heard, getting louder and louder as it neared. The siren stopped, and a minute later two EMTs burst into the church and were waved to the front, where they opened their kits and started removing gear. One studied Rachael for a few seconds and said: “Keep it up dear, you are doing it perfectly. In a second we will shock him, so when I say clear, I want you to stop and back away.”

The other technician had paddles out, and was smearing a liquid on them, while the one who had spoken used a pair of scissors to slice open the ministers garments exposing his chest.

“Okay, clear,” the first technician shouted, and he saw Rachel fall away backwards, “Now.” There was a buzzing sound.

“Nothing. Try again. Clear. Now.” The buzzing sound repeated. “I have a pulse,” the second technician said. “It is weak, but a pulse. Prep him to go. Call the hospital.” The EMTs did their work, and minutes later the reverend was on a gurney, with one of the technicians wheeling him out to the ambulance. The other waited a second, packing up. “Are you okay sweetheart,” he said to Rachael. “Do we need to take you in too?”

“No, I’m fine,” Rachael said weakly, with arms burning in pain from the CPR. “Just tired. Oh so very tired.”

“Okay love,” the man said. “You may have saved a man’s life today. He isn’t in the clear yet, but you have given him a chance. If he hadn’t been getting blood to his brain while we were on the way … well, it wouldn’t have been good.” With that he ran after his partner to help get their patient into the ambulance and off to the hospital.”

Rachael slowly got to her knees. Her arms were totally spent. Maria came forward and helped her to her feet. Rachael looked around, and saw all the people standing around her. “Please, everyone take your seats.” Slowly they did so, until only Rachael and Maria were standing at the altar.

“We aren’t done yet,” Rachael spoke up to the hushed crowd. “The EMT says he is not out of danger yet. We need to pray for him. I know this church is not big on kneeling, but I would like those who can to get on your knees and plead with the Lord not to take our pastor away. It is not his time yet.” Rachael dropped to her knees and prayed for several long minutes, with her mother beside her. She could hear a murmur as the rest of the congregation was also making silent pleas for their pastor.

Maria again had to help Rachael regain her feet. “I hope that helped. Oh, I see the little ones returning from Sunday School. Bobby, come up here.” He joined his family at the front, looking confused.

“I think we should close with a song. This is a favorite of mine.” Rachael started singing Amazing Grace in her clear, high soprano voice. A moment later her mother joined in, harmonizing perfectly with her daughter. A few people sang a syllable or two, but most just stopped and listened to the beautiful song, being sung beautifully by the two women. Those who started singing quickly stopped, so it was only the clear, untrained voices of the two which moved several of the women in the crowd to tears, and made many of the men daub their eyes. It had been a stressful, scary event for everyone and the song provided the perfect relief for the congregation.

When the church had been built over 100 years ago, the architect had placed a small window on the roof. Over the years the window had been covered up, but a windstorm three weeks earlier had torn the covering off the old window, and the driving rain had pummeled the old glass clean. The deacon had inspected the damage later, and decided that it was not leaking any worse than other bad spots on the roof, which was overdue for replacement. So the window was left open.

And today, as the last few words of Amazing Grace were ringing through the church, the sun broke out, and the window served its purpose for the first time in 50 years. The clouds parted and a small, single ray of light shined down, and struck Rachael’s head, creating a halo effect around her. There was a gasp from the congregation as they saw the halo.

Rachael had no idea what was happening, other than that she was being blinded by the light. No doubt that was the reason why some minister in the past had ordered the window closed off.

“I see that the deacon is at the door with the collection plates. It has been an unusual service, but I suppose we can contribute our share as we leave.”

People started getting up and going to the door. Without a minister there for the traditional greeting time, it seemed odd, but people just went to their cars, and drove away.

Rachael, Maria, and Bobby, who had been at the front were the last to leave. Rachael stared in amazement at the collection plate, which was covered in $20 bills. There was even a few fifties and a hundred in there. The deacon saw her noticing the take, and said: “It was a very good collection. Better than three or four normal weeks, I suspect.

“I feel bad that we only have our loonies and toonies,” Rachael said as she tossed her two dollar coin into the plate. Maria did the same, and Bobby added his dollar loonie.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” the deacon said. “You did a wonderful thing for all of us up there. I got a call from the hospital. The choir leader rode with him in, and she says that he is in ICU but they expect him to pull through. He won’t be back to work for a while. I guess I’ll have to find a seminary student, or a recent graduate to cover for him for a few months.”

With that, Bobby, Maria and Rachael headed for home.

“Drat,” Maria said when they were halfway there. I didn’t get a chance to talk to John and Paul. And I don’t expect they will be coming back to this church, will they.”

“Mom,” Rachael said. “They have a shop less than 20 feet from where you work. I’m sure Geoff will give you a few minutes to drop over and talk with them the next day they are in.”

* * *

That girl is so infuriating, Thomas McNaughton thought. She is stressing me out. But then she disappeared, which was a good thing. But the church and the congregation also disappeared, which was a bad thing. The reverend found himself in front a gorgeous white structure. It looked like a medieval castle, except one that was built with walls of gleaming marble instead of stone. There was a section near him that was a fence, with a gate. At first it looked like bronze, but then he realized that it was solid gold.

Then he saw her. It was his wife, who had died 15 years earlier of cancer. But this was not the old and worn woman who he had seen waste away. This was the young woman that had captured his heart in seminary school, and then gave up her own dreams to become the wife of a minister.

“Lana,” he said reaching his hand out to touch her. He was an agonizing few inches short of making contact, and she wouldn’t move closer.

“Tom,” she replied. “It isn’t your time yet. You have things to do, and things to atone for before we can touch again. Please do what is needed. I do so want to be with you again.”

Rev. McNaughton had tears in his eyes as his wife faded away. Another angel appeared, a portly man not much taller than Lana was.

“Call me John,” he said.

“You are an angel,” the minister said in amazement.

“Yes, we all do the work of the Lord in our own ways,” he said. “I believe you have met one of our flock recently. A young girl. Name of Rachael.”

Thomas reddened in anger. “Little guttersnipe. Thought she could tell me off, in my own church.”

“Is it your church?” John asked. “I think that the church belongs to the Lord, or to the people. It is when other people think they control it that bad things happen. Is it your church?”

“No sir,” Thomas said sorrowfully. “The girl is right. But I couldn’t just stand by and allow sinners in the building. It would make it a mockery of all we stand for.”

“Rachael stands for love,” St. John said. “She is right when she says that God created those men, and others like them. They are creations of our Lord, and you shun them. You know, it wasn’t long before your time when many people considered people of other races to be subhuman. Millions were enslaved on this continent. When you were young, did you feel that way?”

“No sir,” Thomas protested. “I joined in. A group from the seminary went to Cleveland to march with the blacks. We were spat on, and vilified by the white supremacists. But we stood firm with them, and made friends that still stand by us.”

“Do you know that you are the supremacists in this case? You spit on them, and vilify them as those others once did to the blacks you stood by. You need to accept them and love them as you love your other congregants.”

“But they are SINNERS! They …”

“They are the children of God. Do you presume to tell God what is right or wrong?”

“Dear Lord, no,” Thomas dropped to his knees. “Then … the girl was right?”

“She was. It would be good for you to get to know her, and let her lead you. From the mouths of small children come pearls of great wisdom. She is calling you even now.”

“What? I hear nothing except that drumming. Dum, dum, dum.”

“Listen closely. She speaks to you.”

He listened, and the drums intensified. And then, slowly they turned into words. “Don’t. You. Die. Don’t. You. Die.” Soon the sound was overpowering. Thomas looked through the gates, and saw Lana, with a host of angels surrounding her, all chanting “Don’t. You. Die.”

Then he heard the words “Okay, clear. Now.” There was a massive pain in his chest.

“Nothing. Try again. Clear. Now.” The pain again. “I have a pulse.”

* * *

Maria sat in the kitchen as Rachael fussed about. After the drama of the morning she no longer wanted to visit the Stoner house. Mr. Stoner would be back, and she didn’t know if he would welcome a visit from her. Maybe tomorrow, or the next evening after school. He should be back in Toronto then.

A few minutes after their quick lunch, Marc and another boy, Jerry, were at the door, asking Bobby to come to the park to play catch. He ran to get his ball and glove, and was out the door as soon as Maria said he could go.

“I think I’ll make a cake,” Rachael told her mother when the boys were gone. “I need to stay busy to keep my mind off of things.”

“I’m sorry dear, I don’t think there is a cake mix in the cupboard, unless you bought one and squirrelled it away somewhere.”

“Mix. Mix? We don’t need no stinkin’ mix,” Rachael said parodying some movie, causing Maria to giggle. She went to the pantry and took out a small bag of cake flour she had bought. She placed it on the counter along with baking powder, baking soda, eggs from the fridge, cocoa powder, butter, sugar and a few spices. “This is my cake mix.”

“You are going to make a cake from scratch?” Maria said wide-eyed.

“Yes, we learned how in school in December,” Rachael said. Her old Rachael memories went back to that time. A young home ec. teacher had finished the course a week ahead, and decided to teach the class how to make a scratch cake, something not normally taught until high school. It was a disaster. Not a single cake came out right, and only one of the 12 that were made by the partners in the class was even edible. Rachael’s was one of the ones that was both as hard as a rock, and burnt, black on the bottom. Luckily Ron had better luck baking from scratch, and it was his chocolate supreme cake that Rachael planned to make.

“Can I help?” Maria said.

“You can keep me company. There will be less mess with only one cook. Or baker, in this case. What are you planning to do tomorrow? I assume that is your day off.”

“Well, actually there was a big argument about that on Saturday. Geoff said I should take the day off. Monday’s are the slowest days, and he said his mother could handle the full day. He is wrong. The poor dear is worn out, and would be exhausted working a full nine hours. So I said I will go in. Geoff said if I did he would fire me. I said he couldn’t, because he needs me too much. I told him I would be in at eight, and he didn’t need to pay me, but I would be there. He said he was going to change the locks on the door, so I couldn’t get in. I said it didn’t matter. I would stand outside the door, and wait until his Mom opened the door, and then sneak in with her.”

Rachael giggled visualizing the friendly banter between the two. “So Geoff hasn’t learned to never argue with a woman.”

“I guess not. He gets uppity some times. It’s like he thinks he owns the place,” Maria giggled.

Rachael laughed as she started mixing her ingredients. Then a thought hit her. “Mom, you like Geoff. I mean like like.”

“What? No. Don’t be silly. I like him. He is a lot of fun and so nice. And I know I will have more fun working Monday than rolling around here at home. And you know, when he is lifting those huge sacks of flour and you can see his muscles ripple though his t-shirt, and … oh my God, I do like like him.”

“Thought so. What are you going to do about it?” Rachael asked.

“Do about it? Nothing. I work for him. I don’t want to become another Callie.”

“Mom, you will never be another Callie, and Geoff will never be another Joe. I think the two of you would be cute. You should date him. And just to let you know, if it turns into something, I would love Geoff as a dad. He will be the best one I ever had.”

“Yeah, that isn’t a hard bar to pass,” Maria said, thinking of the man who left her pregnant with a three-year-old daughter. “But don’t get your hopes up. He hardly even looks at me.”

“You are wrong there,” Rachael said. “I’ve seen him look at you from the back rooms. He always smiles. I thought it was because he was glad to have such a hard worker at the counter. Now I realize he is glad because he has such a hottie at the counter.”

“Rachael! I am not a hottie,” Maria protested.

“Hah. You are the hottest hottie in this whole town. You just don’t know it. You need to get a date with Geoff.”

“Yeah, like that is going to happen. When exactly could he take me on a date? He works six days a week, and he’s probably in the bakery right now, cleaning or doing maintenance or something. Let’s talk about something else. How was your day yesterday?”

Rachael gave an abbreviated recap of her day at the farm. Her mother just heard that they went riding, not that she had tamed a wild horse and rode him bareback. She mentioned the egg farm, and the possibility of getting cheap chickens. She also mentioned about the birth of the new bull calf, although without going into the details about the part she had played in that drama.

She did give the full story about Mr. Barden, the next-door neighbor, because that was what had caused her to be late coming home.

“I was wondering about that,” Maria said. “When you didn’t come home on time, and didn’t call, I started to worry.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” Rachael apologized. “But everything was happening so fast I didn’t think about the time.”

“Well, you are forgiven. I can’t complain if you were saving a man’s life. That is two in two days for you now, isn’t it? Is Mr. Barden okay?”

“Mr. Jackson was going to send one of his boys over this morning to check. I’m sure that if he isn’t up to it, the Jackson boys will do his milking for free. They are really good people, Momma.”

“And so are you, honey,” Maria said, hugging her daughter as she put her cake tins in the oven. “From what I saw of your young friend yesterday morning, he seems like a fine, polite boy. And it sounds like he comes from an honest, hard-working family.”

The two women continued to chat. Once the cake was out of the oven Rachael made a vanilla buttercream icing for it. She told Maria it was a joke on Bobby, so that he wouldn’t know it was a chocolate cake until she cut into it.

“It’s a good thing he isn’t here now,” Maria noted. “The smells from that cake are just so delicious. I’m putting on weight just sniffing the air.”

“Hah. Like you could ever put on weight,” Rachael said. “But it is a very rich cake. I shouldn’t have a piece tonight.”

“Honey, you should. You have been losing weight all month. I bet more than 10 pounds so far. You are looking so much better. And Bobby is too. And with him running around with those other two boys he will continue to trim down. I think you can ease up on his diet a bit.”

“I have. He’s gotten treats from the bakery a couple times this last week, as well as his apple. I just love him so much. He never complains when I say he can’t have something. He is such a good kid.”

“And you are so good with him,” Maria said. “You know that all you’re doing with him is going to stand you in good stead when you become a mother yourself.”

A mother? That floored Rachael for a moment. A month ago she was an elderly man. Now she was thinking about being a mother. A vision of Queenie from yesterday came into her mind, and she suddenly saw her face instead of the cow’s, with hands invading her personal spaces. She shuddered.

“What honey?” Maria asked when she saw Rachael’s reaction.

“I was just thinking about the cow that gave birth yesterday. It looked like it hurt a lot. Does it?”

“Well, to be honest, it does hurt. But it is not an unbearable pain. It was better with you, because I wasn’t so alone, like I was with Bobby. But I can tell you: the rewards come from having a new little body lying on your belly, and then starting to nurse it. It is incredibly beautiful. I’m sure when your time comes, you will enjoy it.” Her voice then turned Mommish. “But not for another 10 years at least. You will finish high school, and college. Understand!”

“Yes Momma, I will. I want to be a veterinarian when I grow up, and that takes a lot of years of college. You might have Bobby give you a grandchild before I do.”

“Good,” Maria said. “Although I don’t want him messing around too young either. I will enjoy a grandchild when I am well into my 40s, not sooner.”

“I think Bobby will be a good man,” Rachael said. “Look at the way he is with Danni. She adores him, and you would think he would ignore her. At that age, boys aren’t friends with girls, and especially not ones so much younger. But let anyone hurt her, or threaten her, and he lays right into them. He will be a good man.”

“So what is for supper tonight, cook-daughter of mine. Surely more than cake?”

“I got a good deal on a roast at the grocery store. I know that Grandpa loves his beef. And the leftovers make the best sandwiches. Bobby prefers bologna, but I like a change once in a while. And now you have to take a lunch to the bakery too.”

“I got an assortment of root vegetables too, so we can have onion, carrots, turnips and rutabagas in the pot. I want to bake potatoes instead of roasting them, because Bobby loves them so.”

“So you are making a dinner to please both of the men in your life,” Maria noted.

“Yes, I guess I am,” Rachael said. But inside she started to think about Robert. Wasn’t he a man in her life too? She decided to save at least one slice of cake for him and take it to school tomorrow, to thank him for the visit to the farm.

The boys came home at about five, and by that time the smell of the cake was masked by the smells of the supper. The iced cake was hidden on top of the fridge, and Bobby didn’t even know it was there.

“He did ask for cookies, but settled for carrot sticks. He also insisted on making his famous salad for dinner.

Grandpa came at the usual time, and Rachael had a pair of cookies to give to his driver, a younger man, about 45.

The little family sat around the table, and Rachael led the prayer, specifically asking that Rev. McNaughton would be okay. “Is there someone you would like to remember, Grandpa?” she asked.

“Yes there is,” he said. “Corporal George Stiller. George, Jerome Kingsmill and I were all boys from here in Ingersoll. I talked the other two into signing up for the Vingt Deux, who normally work out of Quebec, to honor my uncle, who died in the first war. That was before my family moved west to Ontario. Anyway, the three of us went to Hull, Quebec and enrolled there. The training was in English, so the other boys got by okay, but they sure learned how to swear in French, since the rest of us were Frenchies.”

“Anyway, we went through training together, but George missed out on the Dieppe raid, lucky dog, he was sick and in the hospital. Jerome and I survived that. Not many did. So when D-day rolled around, we weren’t called for on the first day. But a week after we finally landed we got into that mess I told you about, where they gave me the medal. The three of us were in the same foxhole, and George popped his head up to see what we should do, and he bought it. A sniper got him in the forehead, right through his helmet.”

“I saw red, and beat it out of the foxhole and up to the position above. I just wanted to kill all the men who had killed my friend. Jerome stayed with George, but I knew it was over for him. It was the first action he had been in, and the last. I told his name, and where the action was, to Bobby’s friend Marc and he promised to send it to one of his old teachers back in France. I want a picture of George’s resting place.”

“That’s all I want to say about that,” he turned to Bobby. “I know you will have questions. You always do. But I don’t want to talk any more about it tonight. Can you leave your questions for another night? I will answer them then, if I can.” Bobby nodded in agreement, although Rachael could see he was just bursting with questions after such a detailed battle description. She quickly plated the meal.

“Tater skins, tater skins,” Bobby shouted as soon as he saw the baked potatoes. The rest of them waiting somewhat more patiently as Rachael filled their plates with the items they requested. Grandpa actually asked for small helpings of each of the vegetables, as well as his meat and potatoes.

“I liked everything except the rooter-baggers,” Bobby declared.

“Yes, but you tried them, and that is the important thing,” Rachael said.

“That is another excellent meal,” Grandpa said. “You are a wonderful cook, Rachael. I so look forward to these outings. It gives me something to look towards every week.”

“Well, I’m not sure how many more of them there will be, Grandpa,” Maria said. “We are going to have to move out of this little house soon. I don’t know where we will go, but there is a good chance there will be stairs.”

She was interrupted by Bobby shouting ‘Cake, cake’ as Rachael brought out the dessert. She sliced it up, and as predicted Bobby was thrilled to see that the white icing hid chocolate cake, his favorite.

All four of them were eating their dessert and the discussion turned back to the apartment. “Where will you go?” Grandpa asked.

“Well, we can’t afford a house,” Maria said. She noted that they were getting a much reduced rent from their prior landlord. “We are hoping to get the little apartment above the Art Gallery near my work.”

“No!” Grandpa said decisively. “You are moving into my little house. There is room. No one has been in the upstairs for years, but there are three bedrooms and a bathroom up there. Room for everyone. And a nice kitchen downstairs where Rachael can work her magic.”

“That is so generous,” Maria said. “But we couldn’t possibly impose on you.”

“Impose. Impose? Do you know that my doctor put me on a waiting list for an old folks home last month. They say I am too old to be living alone. If I have my family living with me, they can’t take me out of my own house. Old folks home,” he snorted. “People go to those to die. I have no plans on dying now. Not when I have finally found my family.”

Rachael was amazed. How had she failed to think of moving in with Grandpa? They had fixated on the apartment over the gallery, and hadn’t kept thinking of alternatives. She had been in the upstairs. She had gone up to check things when she had cleaned the downstairs with Mikki a few weeks back. There were three bedrooms, all larger than the ones in this house. The bathroom had a shower as well as a tub. There were ample closets in each bedroom, and two of the three rooms had beds that were made up. There was a lot of dust on everything, but Rachael had put cleaning up there on a todo-later list, and never went back to it.

Maria was not done yet, though. “We will pay you $500 a month, then,” she said.

“NO!” Rachael had never heard the old man speak so harshly. “Don’t you understand woman. We are family. Family don’t pay rent to live together. You will pay nothing. If the gas or water bills go up, then you can chip in the difference, if it is more than a few dollars. But you will not pay rent.”

Maria was taken aback by the force of the old man’s convictions.

“We can help with groceries,” Rachael suggested.

“You are doing that already,” Grandpa said. “But yes, if you are cooking for me, and cleaning house for me, and providing me with so much love, I will let you pay for the groceries.”

“You are too kind,” Maria said, tears in her eyes. Not having to pay rent was going to change her life. She would have money to spend on her kids. To buy them the things they had been deprived of for so many years. So it was that Maria was still sobbing quiet tears of joy when Rachael and Grandpa left.

At his house, Rachael helped him get ready for bed, and then took a quick run upstairs, with his permission, to refresh her memories of the place. It was perfect. A smaller room for Bobby, a slightly larger one for her, and a master bedroom for her mother.

Not wanting to linger, Rachael tore down the stairs and went out to the Legion man, who was gladly munching on the second of the cookies she had given him when he came to pick them up. “These are really good,” he said.

“Thanks, they are homemade, but if you want really good stuff, check out the Bread Baron Bakery down the street.”

“I have seen that place, but never dropped in. Is it that good?”

“Better than that. We buy all our bread there, and the Danish are to die for. You are pretty slim (a lie, like most 60 year olds, he had a pot belly) so I don’t think you would need to worry about calories. But it tastes heavenly.”

Back at the house, Maria had sent Bobby up to his bath. Two days of running wild with his friends meant he needed to clean up before school tomorrow. When Rachael got into the door, Maria grabbed her around the waist and hugged her tightly.

“It is so perfect. Why didn’t we think of that before? It lets Grandpa live at home longer, and I’m sure with us looking after him it can only help him. And the money we will save! I will no longer have to scrimp. Bobby can get pizzas at school. And you can buy some new clothes that no one else has ever worn.”

“And you too, Momma,” Rachael said. “You need new things too.”

“All of us. And we should even buy some new clothes for Grandpa. Some of his outfits look like they are 25 years old.”

“We will have to be careful with him,” Rachael warned. “He is a proud man, and probably won’t take well to the idea that we need to take him shopping. But we can buy him gifts, can’t we? A new sweater, or a shirt. If it is a gift from us, he will have to accept it.”

“And it means I will be closer to work. It’s only a few blocks, but it will make the walk in and home five minutes quicker. And quicker for you kids to walk home from school. You could even walk in to school if you wanted.”

“I don’t think we will,” Rachael said. “At least not this term. There are only a few more weeks of school this year. Mikki likes me to ride in with her, as well as walking home. Larissa, Marc and Mikki will have a longer walk after letting us off though. I hope they still come and visit Grandpa. He so loves to speak French with Larissa and Mark.”

“Things are better all around,” Maria pronounced. “I think that tonight I need to thank your Lord. He really came through for us on this.”

“He is your Lord too Momma. But do thank him. And pray for Rev. McNaughton.

Dear Lord, Rachael later said.

Thank you for solving our housing crisis, and in such a wonderful way. It helps Grandpa, and helps us tons. Please let Rev. McNaughton live. He is so loved by his congregation. I did not mean to cause him to have the heart attack. I just got so worked up by what he was saying. But even though he thinks like that he deserves to live. I’m so sorry for messing up.

Amen



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